In the “What Went Wrong & How Do We Fix It?” series we’ll be identifying notable IDPs who underperformed in 2011 and break down their seasons in an attempt to diagnose exactly what went awry and how it might be corrected in 2012.
What Went Wrong?
Upon entering the 2011 season there was a strong case to be made that Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker, Lawrence Timmons, was one of, if not the premier IDP prospect in the NFL. He was coming off a career year in 2010 that saw the former first round pick finish atop the PFF rankings at ILB (+31.6). The Steelers thought highly enough of Timmons as to reward him with a crisp, new, six-year, $50 million contract. Not surprisingly, our own Jeff Ratcliffe pegged the Steelers’ twenty-five year-old stud as the top ranked IDP dynasty candidate at the time. Lawrence Timmons was in a good place, to be sure.
The season, however, would prove to be a bit rougher for this heir apparent to the Steeler linebacking throne. That #1 PFF ranking? Sorry, try #29 (+3.8). More alarming from a purely fantasy standpoint was that Timmons’ total tackles, quarterback disruptions, and snaps all dropped significantly from 2010 to 2011. A quick perusal of Steeler fan sites and message boards reveals a rising tide of complaints about missed tackles (which appear unfounded by PFF’s count), unnecessary added bulk, and general disgust at the level of play from a man who was handed a massive extension before the season. Fantasy owners who had grown accustomed to and comfortable with slotting Lawrence in at a starting LB slot on a weekly basis found themselves needing to explore other options as the season wore on. Something, obviously, had gone wrong.
Just what exactly, you ask? Well, as is often the case, there were a multitude of factors at work. Most noticeably, there was Timmons’ four game stint as an outside linebacker while pass rushing stud and NFL “bad boy”, James Harrison, was sidelined with a fractured right orbital bone. During his stint as the team’s starting ROLB, Timmons’ production suffered considerably (-9.0), including a week six game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in which he failed to record even a single tackle for the first time in his career as a starter in the NFL. Additionally, he produced a grand total of three pass disruptions (2 hits, 1 pressure) over that month span—disappointing for a player with Lawrence‘s pass rushing track record. Not coincidentally, the struggling linebacker’s play improved almost immediately upon returning to his customary ILB position, but not quite to pre-2011 levels, unfortunately.
Another issue to consider is Timmons’ aforementioned weight gain in an apparent attempt to bulk up for the rigors of another football season. Or, perhaps it was an all-too-common result of the much ballyhooed NFL lockout? Regardless, the unfortunate consequence for Lawrence appeared to be drop off in one of his most important assets—speed. As a result, he, at times during the season, appeared to be loafing, or at the very least, taking poor angles to ball carriers. Not what a team wants out of its franchise linebacker. The 243 pounds that Timmons is listed at is right in line with Patrick Willis (242), James Laurinaitis (244), Ray Lewis (245), and many of the other premier IDP talents in the league, and he’d do well to maintain that weight if wants to retain his lateral quickness and range.
And what of that $50 million contract? Are we really to believe that the money may have gone to his head and affected his performance this past season? Perhaps, but its unlikely. There is, however, something to be said for increased pressure on a player coming on the heels of a career season and Super Bowl loss, to make no mention of a lucrative salary increase. That said, it’s difficult to put as much credence into this theory, but even so, it necessitates consideration.
How Can We Fix It?
So, what then, are IDP enthusiasts to make of Lawrence Timmons moving forward into 2012 and beyond? These issues from last year are troubling, yes, but let us now consider what we can expect from this still-alluring fantasy commodity. First, and foremost, it’s not altogether unreasonable to simply chalk up Timmons’ disappointing 2011 campaign as nothing more than an aberration; a blip on the radar of one of the league’s most useful IDP options. What fan would be wholly surprised to see a return to form in 2012? Again, it’s best not to over simplify matters, but sometimes that’s just how this game works.
Thinking more tangibly, it would do Timmons (and the Steelers as a whole) a world of good to infuse the defense with some fresh, talented blood. While the popular, “Pittsburgh is just too old!” narrative is overplayed, the fact that James Farrior (-5.3, 39th ranked ILB) struggled mightily last season is not. Without the benefit of youth, the “blip on the radar” theory does not apply here. It can be expected that Farrior will be released this offseason, thus allowing the Steelers to pair Timmons with a younger, more productive player who can help alleviate problems in the front seven. To help the team with its defensive rebuilding process, both Lawrence and fellow linebacker, LaMarr Woodley, have restructured their hefty contracts to provide salary cap leeway, which is a good start.
Ultimately, it will, in all likelihood, be the case that Lawrence Timmons’ best chance for fantasy redemption rests in consistency. Both in his ability to consistently put up tackle numbers (with an occasional big play) and the Steelers’ ability to consistently put Lawrence in a position to excel (read: not playing him at OLB for extended periods). Both scenarios, however, will, of course, hinge on good health (including Timmons maintaining an ideal playing weight) and a certain amount of luck, but that’s part of the reason to love fantasy football.
2012 Rebound Probability: 7.5/10